Ghost Recon: Wildlands Review (PlayStation 4)
Ubisoft is making a habit out of debuting massive, ambitious shooter games in the first quarter of the calendar year. Last year was The Division which took a year’s worth of DLC to come into its own, while this year’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands makes its impact immediately. These wild lands offer a ton of objectives to seek out and baddies to kill, even if those missions err on the repetitive side most of the time, and bringing a few friends along for the ride makes the game even better. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is exactly what Ubisoft’s storied shooter franchise needed to be reinvigorated.
The game centers around an elite foursome of special op soldiers dropped into the heart of a devastated version of Bolivia. The country has been taken over by a particularly brutal drug cartel called Santa Blanca, its leader a zealous psychopath called El Sueno. His lieutenants are spread all across the country, he owns the politicians and law enforcers of the land, and anyone who tries to oppose him usually end up tortured and killed in awful, inhumane ways. It’s up to the Ghost Recon team to infiltrate, disrupt, and ultimately take down this evil empire before the country falls into oblivion.
Bolivia is gigantic. This is easily one of the biggest open worlds I’ve ever played through, and every inch of it is packed with markers to investigate. There are enemy officers to interrogate, intel documents which unlock story missions, and convoys to disrupt among other things, all of which eventually lead to the big blow-off with that region’s head honchos. Case in point:,the first mission marker encountered in the game is two in-game kilometers from where I first took control, resulting in a six-minute drive with all four teammates packed into a small 4x4. As soon as I saw that I knew I was in for a massive adventure and the game did not disappoint.
The problem that arises, however, is while there are markers all over this massive in-game world, there’s barely any variety in the action. Drop in, shoot bad guys, complete objective, get out of Dodge; that’s every mission in a very condensed nutshell. The variety comes from how you approach these objectives and how difficult the enemies are, but at their deepest core these missions are the same thing over and over again for the most part. The monotony is far more obvious when playing alone simply because human friends interact like humans during gameplay and not like silent AI teammates, but the drag of repetition seeps in after a while regardless of who's by your side.
Wildlands is a game that screams co-op, but the single-player is adequate enough on its own. Typically AI teammates aren't anything special in games like this, but in one mission in particular, the computer-assisted Recon members made all the difference. After landing a chopper a few hundred years away from a target, I slowly inched my way through some tall grass, my rifle trained on the back of an enemy foot soldier’s head. I could hear my teammates approach with me, slowly and stealthily through the field, until I stopped and gave the order to shoot. Each AI teammate had already picked his target, all of those targets different from the one I had marked, and with one button press four enemies bit the dust.
I can’t guarantee that four human players would be that efficient, but the teammate AI is some of the smartest I’ve ever come across. My teammates act just as I would expect a human player to act, staying with me and maintaining a tight group until I give an order to move or shoot. That’s not to say there weren’t occasional hiccups in judgment, particularly the one time a teammate decide to approach a group of three enemies all by himself and gave up our position, but again a human player could do the same thing.
The teammate AI almost made me prefer to play the game alone, but Wildlands truly shines when taking on the cartel with friends. The monotonous nature of the missions doesn’t seem quite as repetitive when the four friends are talking and joking en route to the next target. Being able to give actual voice commands to one friend at a time as opposed to using buttons makes combat easier too, as the controller is then dedicated only to targeting and shooting without having to devote time to telling the AI where to stand for an assault.
The repetition carries into the look and feel of the game as well, as WIldlands’ version of Bolivia is nothing but brown mountains, green forests, and some pockets of civilization thrown in for good measure. Non-player characters do populate the world, mostly seen walking down dirt roads or mourning over dead family members, but those character models do not carry the same level of detail as the main characters. One farmer I drove past on the way to a mission looked like he was missing his face when in fact he wasn’t, there just wasn’t enough detail for me to discern any features. I get not putting a lot of details onto NPCs for time constraint purposes, but I at least to see some faces on these folks..
Repetition notwithstanding Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a great way to blow off some steam with a few friends for a couple of hours at a time. Co-op gameplay is some of the best I’ve ever seen and this in-game world will take weeks to explore, just don’t expect to be wowed by the mission variety during the adventure. My world wasn’t rocked, but these Wildlands offered enough fun for me to recommend it to those looking for some co-op shooter fun.
This review was completed using a digital copy of Ghost Recon: Wildlands provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.